Day 6 in the Big Harrogate Theatre.

By Tim Stedman

Returning after the weekend it was straight into interviews for me. One for a newspaper, another for Stray FM and some voiceovers for the Christmas Lights Switch On as ‘Wishee’. Not being terribly good at interviews I focused on damage limitation but soon became distracted by the sound of my own voice – wouldn’t take a Parkinson to turn me over.

In the afternoon we did a stagger of Act 1. This mixed blessing allows you to wallow in the false security that you’ve “done half the play” whilst drowning in the knowledge of how poorly you know it. Liz and Tom were very good. Grounded, off book and certain of the decisions they’d taken. Jimmy and Gordon too looked comfortable and content with where they were. I was like a rabbit in a set of headlights – should I use the script and feel bad for needing it or plunge headlong into a faltering fight with my memory? My indecision led me to try both. I set myself a reasonably low target and then failed to meet my own expectations.

But today wasn’t a test regarding line learning. It’s about sewing the seeds of characterization, the growth of relationships between characters, of humour, drama and most importantly the seeds of a good story. Knowing your lines is very important. And so is knowing why you’re saying them and what purpose they serve. Sorry there was no blog on Day 5 – I was learning my lines!


Day 4 in the Big Harrogate Theatre rehearsal.

By Tim Stedman

Today we broke the back of Act 1 by rehearsing quite late into the evening.  A long day after a morning of singing eventually got us to the ‘slosh or slap’ routine.

I had scenes with Aladdin and then Widow Twankey joined, then the villain Abanazar. Finally we did a front cloth scene with all of us and the Emperor, Policeman and attendants.

Most actors want lots of lines; as inveterate show offs lines mean the focus of the audience is on you and therefore you are important.  In most pantomimes my character has huge importance at the start with scene setting, communicating plot and as a warm up but fades with the arrival of the dame and lovers and most importantly story.

With that see saw of importance the natural reflex as an actor is to fight such a demise.  I’ve always been happy to shed lines in my opening swathes of monologue.  Be funny, fast or get off!  Pace, a huge concern for a director, often dictates we need cuts.  But towards the end of today I was stood with 6 actors all who had masses to say whilst I had to listen on the end of the chorus line.

Beside myself for a titbit of spotlight I was suggesting ideas, disagreeing over blocking, trying to be part of the creative spotlight.  I even brought on a chair to sit on so the director would realize how little I was involved.  All in jest and good humour but a message nonetheless.  With a Paddington bear stare from the director I hastily returned to standing.

And then bizarrely a bit of training kicked in.  I just listened.  And then I listened as my character would listen.  And from nowhere on a head turn mirrored by Widow Twankey, as we glanced at each other, the DSM (deputy stage manager) laughed at Gordon and I listening.

DSMs are normal people who rarely wish to be on the stage or show off.  They’re the nearest gauge we have to an audience much better than fellow actors or even the director.

Back in the scene I was now listening.  Supporting the others and telling the story.  The story is King, Stedman.  The story is King.

Day three in the Big Harrogate Theatre House

By Tim Stedman

Spent the morning dividing up the singing.  Who sings what, where and when.  The ladies of the company sound amazing singing their number together.  James (Emperor) and Gordon (Widow Twankey) also have a potential showstopper with their duet masterfully arranged by Nick Lacey, our Musical Director.

In the afternoon we sat about paying due homage to this classical drama with more rehearsal.  Wishee Washee’s relationship with Aladdin and Widow Twankey is going to be one of the keys to the way he comes across and indeed the whole family.  It might be as read but audiences, if they don’t see it at least feel – even in the midst of a tirade – whether we still dote on each other.  Having working with Lara before that brother/sister rivalry and banter is huge and creates (I hope) a natural chemistry as brothers on stage.

First rehearsal with Gordon (Widow Twankey) went well.  He’s full of energy, confidence and generosity.  We made fast choices and fell headlong into a double act.  At this stage whether it is the right double act doesn’t matter.  What is wonderful is energy and creativeness and he has bags of it.

Day two in the Big Harrogate Theatre House

By Tim Stedman

Spent the morning listening to the songs for the show.  Spent the rest of the morning encouraging my voice to vaguely resemble said recording. Failed.

In the afternoon we began some blocking of the play – standing it on its feet if you like.  It’s at this point script and cast frailties become more apparent.  Surely its too late to recast now – so I’m safe.

Tom and Liz emerge contented from their ‘opening scene’ rehearsal as Nat, who plays the panda, and I enter the studio.  I fumble and splutter through 4 pages of soliloquy awaiting the arrival of creative support from the Panda’s big entrance.  Soliloquies are hard.  A director of mine from long ago used to say be funny, fast or get off.  I failed to be funny and with 4 pages it’s difficult to be fast or get off.

But then that’s what rehearsals are about – failure.  Finding out what doesn’t work, which jokes work on the page but might not on a stage, how long a punchline should be, where it fits etc.  And that fortunately it’s too late to recast!

Day One in the Harrogate Theatre House

By Tim Stedman (a.k.a. Wishee Washee)

Always nerve wracking that first day.  New names and faces and some faces of which I should remember the names.  The staff were as welcoming as ever, embarrassing me with photocopies of a half page spread in the Harrogate Advertiser with my gormless face leaping out to scare its readership.

‘Read throughs’ are terrifying : do you just read it calmly or try and perform it?  Half the cast I know.  Centre state Lara Denning the ‘named part’, a veteran of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and stepped into the breech in 2004/5 for Mother Goose when another actress fell terribly ill.

Clive, a wonderfully talented and hugely attractive man (he’s 6’8’’ and looking over my shoulder) who I shared a staged with at Stoke.  I played a racist and he beat me up – that Theatre in Education for you.

Tom Peters scared me silly (literally) in Mother Goose and Jack and the Beanstalk with his villainous characters.  A fellow Liverpool F.C. fan (it’s in print now so it must be true) he’s going to be very good in Aladdin.  Or should that be very bad!

James I’ve met briefly before and is famous for his performance in Bouncers, Perfect Pitch. Up ‘n’ Under – he’s a John Godber specialist.  Gordon, Natasha and Liz who I’ve not met before read amazingly.  The standard has been set.

We saw a model of the set designed by Philip Witcomb. Wow. That’s all I’m going to say. Wow.

And finally it’s a joy to work with the legendary director Phil Lowe. (He told me to say that!)

Aladdin’s in town!

The cast for this year’s truly traditional pantomime arrived at the Theatre today to kick off rehearsals. After lots of tea, cakes, firm handshakes and the occasional hug, work got underway with a presentation of the set and costume design, the first read-through and a photo call.

To keep you up-to-date with all the latest Aladdin-based goings on our cast are going to be posting updates here throughout the whole run, giving you a rare insight into the magical world of panto.

Fore more info on Aladdin click here.

Halloween – The Performance!

It’s show timmeee!
Happy Halloween.
We went to the theatre for 3.30 and got all spooked up with white face paint and dark eyes and some bits of nasty fake blood (which was a bargin at 30p) then we did some warm ups before we went down to the Valley Gardens. I decided to go for the stripy tights in the end. We got a few double takes on the way down, it’s always amusing and we used lots of talcam powder to make our hair all grey and clothes shabby.
We had a bit of a run through/dress rehersal for the parents and everyone looked rather scary. Then we had a little ‘tea’ break at about 5 where me and Zoe went on an interesting adventure because the toilets had closed 😦 I’ll spare you the details.

The audience started to arrive in their costumes and getup from about 5.30 onwards. It all worked really well, so much easier with the audience to work with and respond too. I liked how they mostly all joined in and got into it all. Making the small children jump makes me laugh, we even managed to make a dog cry haha that’s a new one. It was really fun, I think everyone did a great job.  Lucy did a really good job of filling in on the George story at short notice. I think all the stories worked well. It was quite tiring though and that was only from 4 runs haha, was a busy day, worth it though 🙂 Ooh the chav who tried to steal the balloon – he was hard core, not, there’s always one haha. I think everyone enjoyed it, the audience, actors and volenteers AND it didn’t rain 🙂 always a good thing, it wasn’t as cold as I thought it was going to be either. There was definitely more people there than last year. I’m quite tired now though. Walked home and I’m planning on watching a scary film – see what’s on. Now onto another play. Yey for drama.

Last night was great 🙂 yayyyy! We started off at the theatre to do costume and makeup, and we all looked really scary 🙂 white base so we looked all pale and horrible, then pretty much dab on what you like. I only used black to make myself look gaunt and scary, but we had scars, drippping blood, green eyes going – it were all good. Costume was mostly what we brought ourselves, I got fake blood on my shirt. The only white shirt I have is Jack Wills so my parents weren’t pleased when I got back haha. We had witches, vampires, undertakers, Sir Eric and generally scary stuff of all sorts. We did our usual warmups. I like to eat apples and bananas, stack your vertibrae, punch the parrot etc. 🙂 Walked down to the Valley Gardens with everything we needed to put on a mock performance for any family of the cast that showed up. On the first walk every idea I had come up with previously just disappeared from my mind. Nerves kicked in, I think. We got to the story of George and I was very surprised when James appeared from the foliage on the floor – a very unexpected entrance. Oranges and Lemons was sung and George’s house fell down. We moved on, the guides spewing out any amusing or otherwise thoughts that came to mind, past where we did Wind In The Willows (aah, the memories) and found Matilda burning because she lied about a fire in the house. After shepherding the audience to Jim and his ghostly zookeeper (Jim gets eaten by a lion because he ran away from his nurse in a zoo) we wandered off and complained about how hungry we were etc.
We waited around a bit for everything to get set up and for Henshaws to sort out things, then each group went to their performance positions and the guides readied themselvses for the leading. I think it was Lizzy and Aidan who took the first group, then Amy and Dan, then me and Zoë, then Serena and Rosie. We watched the introduction for each pair of guides, who then moved off with their crowd, staying in character. Me and Zoë started off with a short opening, introducing the nights’ stories and getting the audience into the mood. There was a lot more people than I expected and we had a hard job shepherding them all to each story. Let alone racking our brains for things to say. I was pretty nervous and I knew my projection was suffering for it. I also got reminded to speak up once or twice later… Apart from an especially slow audience, there were no major mishaps, and I began to get into it by the end 🙂 Zoë was energetic and bouncy all the way through and if there were less people in between us I would’ve enjoyed watching 🙂 Second tour and I really got into it, belting out everything I said, bouncing off the audience, it was really fun 🙂 Me and Zoë didn’t see each other much because one was always at the front while the other was at the back, but everything was happy and fun. I might have scared a few little kids though… Third and final tour and our audiences had diminished to just eight people. When we got George’s group, there were some kids nearby playing with some fireworks. The ineptitude of their handling of the explosives made everyone a bit nervous. I thought it dangerous to stay so close, so I surruptitiously had a few words with the Henshaws’ representative, who went over with his big flashlight looking official. The troublesome teens made a speedy departure when a policewoman showed up. It felt like a victory 🙂
So, we finished our Halloween performance 🙂 It was all fun and games, with a fair amount of acting mixed in 🙂 What more do you want? Harrogate Youth Theatre is awesome 🙂 I love it 🙂 Here’s to the next HYT project! 🙂 yayy 🙂